NASHVILLE, Tenn. – We could have been talking offense.
We *should *have been talking offense.
That would have been cool. There were in fact many cool things the Jaguars could have been discussing after a wacky, wild, weird, back-and-forth game in Nashville on Sunday afternoon.
Al of those passing yards? All of those receiving touchdowns? All of those red-zone touchdowns?
All of those SportsCenter highlights?
Those were cool – really cool, actually – and there was other cool stuff that could have been the thrust of the post-game conversation had the Jaguars won.
What happened instead was a 42-39 loss to the Tennessee Titans, a game that was really exciting --- but that was all-too familiar. And because of that, the post-game talk was all-too familiar, too.
"We'll respond, but this one hurts," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said, adding a bit later, "We'll get this thing right … we'll get this thing right."
And it felt familiar to quarterback Blake Bortles, too.
"It's hard," Bortles said after not only throwing a career-high five touchdowns but breaking the franchise record for passing touchdowns in a season. "It seems like it gets more frustrating every week.
"The closer you are, the more frustrating it gets."
Frustrating pretty much sums up Sunday. How else to describe the feeling when the offense solves its red-zone issues with six touchdowns in six opportunities – and the Jaguars still lose?
How else to describe the feeling when Bortles goes interception-less for the first time in eight games --and the Jaguars still lose?
How else to describe wide receiver Allen Robinson having the highlight game of a breakout season – and the Jaguars still lose?
Those things happened, and tight end Julius Thomas caught a touchdown pass for the third time in as many weeks. And running back T.J. Yeldon produced 136 yards of total offense.
The Jaguars lost despite all of those things happening because the issues that have shadowed the Jaguars' defense all season showed up again in a big, damaging way.
It wasn't just the 467 yards allowed. It wasn't just the 8-of-13 third downs they allowed the Titans to convert.
It was that once again the Jaguars couldn't get pass rush with four down linemen. And when they tried blitzing, that hurt, too.
It especially hurt on the game's defining play – an 87-yard scramble run by Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota that gave the Titans a 35-32 lead they never relinquished. The Jaguars rushed seven on the play. They didn't get to Mariota, which left four defenders covering the pass. Considering Mariota's speed, what happened next was no shock. The blitz giveth …
If that didn't define the game, what happened two plays later did: center Stefen Wisniewski's snap sailed over Bortles' head. Bortles failed to recover at the 4 and Titans linebacker Wesley Woodard picked up the fumble for a 42-32 lead.
A mistake here, an opportunity missed there …
If there has been a theme to this season, that's it. The Jaguars are close. Oh, are they close.
They're just not close enough to win.
What does that mean? In terms of this season? In terms of the right now?
Well, it means the playoff talk – remember that? – can absolutely, definitely cease. It means, too, that that feeling of three victories in four games – remember that? has faded. They not only have lost two consecutive games, they have lost back-to-back games to teams that entered the game with two victories.
In terms of the big picture, the reality is Sunday's loss – while frustrating – doesn't change much. The Jaguars needed a late touchdown two weeks ago to beat the Titans at home, and they have needed late scores in all of their victories. This is not a team that blows teams out or kneels out games, and when that's the case no loss – even one to a team you just beat – is surprising.
This team is what it is – with no margin for error. It's a team with needs that will be addressed in the offseason, and that's true whether or not the Jaguars lose the close games they are bound to play the rest of the season or win them.
They need better pass rush. They need to play better defensively on third down and in the red zone. Not coincidentally, those are things that teams that rush the passer well also do well.
They need to continue maturing on offense, too, though Sunday was another good sign that that maturity may be coming sooner rather than later.
What that all means is that right now – at the three-quarter pole – this is a frustrating team with hope for the future. That hope will grow in the offseason when obvious holes are addressed – and it will grow as the team grows together, which it most assuredly is doing.
But for now it means we can't talk offense – at least not much. It means we absolutely can't talk playoffs, and that we have to once again talk frustration.
That's a too-familiar feeling, and that's not cool at all.